Iceland Residency

This blog about my ten week Listhus residency in Ólafsfjörður, northwest Iceland.  14 artists from an international callout have come to Listhus to make work responding to deepest darkest winter.  

Our work  becomes the Skammdegi Festival at the end of the residency, installed across three towns in the region: Akureyri, Ólafsfjörður and Siglufjörður.

The blog is about my experience of the Listhus residency, the work I make, my research and reflection, and includes photos of this magnificent location, the work, and other incidental treats!

Perception of Light

The quality of light here is compelling. It is a creamy soft quiet light, setting up limitless possibilities for reflected and refracted light, enhanced by cloud action and bodies of water lying at the foot of nearly all the mountains, reflecting astonishing beauty in all directions, at all times, in any weather. The quietness of colour palette and light is at once lyrical, playful and mysteriously limited. It bounces around snow covered mountains, off soft banks of cloud and clouds higher in the sky, sometimes lazily floating, sometimes racing crazily. It creates a stillness that leaves space in the mind to contemplate subtleties and connection with the stories of this mythical land.

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Capriciously whipping stiff breezes that seem to come out of nowhere appear to surprise this contemplation and remind me that I am not the only presence in this landscape.

In Australia the light is strong, often harsh and interacts with other elements to form a brightly varied colour palette. The contrast is intriguing and the source of much curiosity.

Being located in one place gives the opportunity of daily observation of the mountains, and other elements of landscape around here. Black rock formations, draped with billowing or pleated snow that fills crevasses and the spaces in the multiple little valleys that form the overall shape of the mountain, create the predominate impression of a monochromatic landscape. On an overcast day this monochrome is blended into greys in the cloud, and as the limited light fades into night, the blackness of the rock seems to take the form of guardian figures in the mountain, a strong presence that both protects and warns, ominous yet comforting.

The upside-down reflections that are waiting to reveal themselves whenever the air is still enough enhance the sense of ethereal otherworldliness created by the light. Perhaps it’s part of the whole process of adjusting from summer in Australia, on the other side of the planet, with harsh strong sunlight, heat and a gaudy colour palette - even in Melbourne, and especially out of the city - to the hibernating stillness of Iceland in winter, where, even as clouds race, wind whips and the human inhabitants continue their daily routines, there is a deeply grounded sense of sleeping, repairing, replenishing, within the earth. It infiltrates my marrow, juxtaposed with the surging creative energy that is growing more powerful, insisting determinedly and irresistibly that I create, make, immerse myself in my studio and interpret the majesty of what I see.

Here’s a quote from one of the books on phenomenology I brought with me to help ground the experience of this residency in perception and reflection.

From The Spell Of the Sensuous by David Abram

Reciprocity - between humans and the natural world … earth is not merely that dense presence underfoot - it is also the transparent air that enfolds us. If the air is invisible, it is nonetheless quite palpable; we can feel the wind moving against our face and riding the curve of our ears. We can feel it tugging the hair on our heads, can feel the air part around our wrists as our arms slice their way through its unseen thickness. And just as we can sense the relative speed of its motion, the dryness or dampness of its touch, so we can also sense the breeze sampling our qualities as it brushes against us, tasting the intensity of our sweat, the mottled texture of our skin. … the grace that flows from an ongoing and improvised dance with the sensuous medium that enfolds us - the air!

As I prepared to come to Iceland I wondered what six weeks without the sun coming above the horizon would be like. Would it be pitch dark all the time? The objective of the Listhus/Skammdegi residency is to make work about our response to the darkest coldest Arctic winter, so somehow I expected total darkness and bone chilling cold. Today first light was at 10:03am and last light at 4.31pm and the temperature has averaged between 5℃ and -3℃, though today it’s been between -8°C and -16°C!

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Happily the light is like early twilight during the hours of daylight, and I have found that it suits me very well! In Australia I wear sunglasses all the time to protect my eyes from the strong light. Here - no sunglasses! And my skin seems to love not being exposed to direct sunlight every day; sunspots that have begun to appear on my hands have faded, and my skin is happy.

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Annie Edney